Lilian sits in her living room, biting her lip slightly as she rolls beads from strips of salvaged paper. She scrutinizes each bead for flaws, placing those she deems perfect in one bowland those with flaws in another. She takes her job seriously.
But then, when a neighbor strolls in through her open front door, as they often do, Lilian flashes her wide smile, which is famous around her neighborhood, as is her warm, bubbly laugh.
“I try every day to be positive for the people around me,” she says. “Here in Uganda, life can be very hard. I want to remind them that life is also very good.”
Lilian’s positivity is genuine, despite her tumultuous life prior to Tuli. At just 22 years old, she’s supporting two children, her mother, and her grandmother, who has diabetes and requires expensive medication. She had her first daughter as a teenager shortly after marrying a man who was physically abusive. Then, when her daughter was seven years old, her husband left, freeing her from violence but trapping her in deeper poverty. Soon after he left, Lilian discovered she was pregnant. She was working on and off through her pregnancy, asking neighbors to watch her daughter when she could find work and staying at home making crafts when she couldn’t. When she went into labor, she walked several miles carrying her young daughter and supplies to the hospital.
“That day, that walk, was the hardest day,” she said. “In all the years with my husband, I never saw so much pain. But still, I thank God for that day.” She gestures to the sleeping child in her hands. “I thank God for Saphina.”
When Lilian began working with Tuli, she had just finished a job as a maid for an Indian couple who were in Kampala on contract work. She made just pennies a day for full time work, not nearly enough to feed and house her family, but it was work, so she took it. Before that, she’d worked for an American couple who paid better, but their time in Uganda was short.
“With the Americans, that was when life was best,” she said. “We had enough to eat. We could pay for rent. That’s why I thank God for Tuli. Here in Uganda, we need jobs with high pay that last.”
You hear that a lot in Uganda: People want jobs. Unemployment is high, and the few jobs available, even with low pay, often mean the difference between eating or going without. Lilian said she once worked as a cook until one day another woman came to her work and took her place. Lilian’s employers passively allowed it, and the woman threatened to kill Lilian if she protested. Lilian tried to go back to work, but the woman had a reputation, and she had to think of her children, so she conceded. Still, it’s hard to have a conversation with Lilian without her mentioning something she’s thankful for, whether big or small. Her faith in God carries her through the good times and the bad, and her trust is something that we at Tuli find inspiring every day. Now that she’s been working with Tuli for over a year, she doesn’t worry about her grandmother’s medication, her eldest daughter’s school fees, or the high price of rent in Kampala’s slums. Once in a while, she even is able to treat her children to candy, but her goal now is to save. She hopes to one day ride in an airplane, even if it’s just to neighboring Kenya. “I hear that the clouds are like rocks, bumping the plane,” she says, laughing. “Is that true?”
We asked Lilian what she’d like to say to the people who buy Tuli products, and her face grew rarely serious.